The magic of attending a baseball game may begin when you present your ticket at the gate, but no spell can be cast without adequate preparation. Before the first pitch the would-be attendee faces a gauntlet of decisions, ranging from checking the schedule for the presence of the home team to pondering whether skipping work on a Wednesday afternoon to watch the 5-starter is really acceptable. The alchemy of preparation may have numerous permutations, but there are four ingredients of particular importance, namely: Who, What, When, and How. Without these, which arise for every game-goer, the stadium might as well not exist.
Who am I going with?
Whether it’s the wife, a college friend, a co-worker, or an awkward uncle, choosing a partner or group of co-attendees is a precursor even to picking a game. While this is a relatively simple question, the process of making this choices says a lot about the potential attendee. For example, the less authoritative personality is not likely to choose at all, rather waiting for the game to come to him in the form of an invitation. The gregarious carouser, on the other hand, is wont to invite five or six friends, especially if he’s got someone to impress. The especially magnanimous, but secretly lonely, man will offer to buy everyone’s tickets and beers if only they’ll come along, while the lazy and anti-social man will just drag his wife along for fear of getting in contact with – and being rejected by – anyone else. One might justifiably wonder how he has a wife in the first place, but that’s beside the point.
Any one of us might be any one of those people at any time, or we might default to a single game-attending modus. Regardless, whether we follow habit or not, having answered “who” we proceed to “what.”
What game are we going to?
The all-mighty schedule imposes certain limitations on this question. If the home team is in the backwaters of Pittsburgh and Washington for the next week the game-going impulse will not be immediately satiated. If, on the other hand, the darkened dates on the calendar indicate a glorious 14-game homestand, the proverbial cup runneth over.
Having perused possibilities, choosing a particular one – or, hey, maybe two or three – is a relatively simple function of available money (lets call that “M”), and time and date of games (call it “T”). Taking the result of “Who,” (or W) as a coefficient, each potential game (“G”) is scored as follows: G = T / W*M. That is, the likelihood of going to a given game is equal to the convenience of the date, factoring in who is going and how much it’s likely to cost. I might have the formula slightly wrong, but I trust some enterprising sabermetrician will spot the error and correct it.
When do we get there?
The question comes with the all-important corollary, “What do we eat?” Ballpark food has its advantages, but price is not among them. On the other hand, there are some fans who insist upon arriving an hour before the game to sit around and watch players stretch and take batting practice, which makes a pre-game meal and drink a trickier proposition.
The other corollary, here, is “How are we getting our tickets?” Scalping is a viable option, but is best done right before the first pitch, when the fickle baseball-ticket market suddenly shifts in the buyer’s favor. A baseball ticket is a rare thing that can be worth as much as one hundred dollars one moment, less than ten a few minutes later, and nothing at all the next day. Finding the right time to strike is vital.
Buying online, or buying walk-up, on the other hand, requires a somewhat earlier arrival, as the line at the ticket-office is liable to make even the most optimistic fan despair for humanity. Questions that might arise, especially if first pitch is imminent, include: “How can it take so long for the guy in front to buy a single ticket?” and, “Why would they hire a deaf saleswoman?” and, if the home team is playing everyone’s favorite lovable losers, “What are all these freaking Cubs fans doing here? This isn’t Chicago!”*
*The reader should disregard this last question if he or she is, in fact in Chicago.
How do we get there?
Finally, the most important question of all. Having settled the simple stuff, the real getting to the park must be negotiated. Public transportation, a nice walk (if you live close enough), the horrors of driving and parking, or some combination of the three are all valid options. While location has a lot to do with the decision, here, it doesn’t change the finality. Once the car is fired up, the train is boarded, or those first steps out of the apartment have been taken, the stadium experience has begun. It’s only a matter of time before, settling into his seat, the stadium-goer can sit back and let the game wash over him, talking with his particular whos. Cue National Anthem, starting lineups, and first pitch. Put aside all troubles and worries, including the very effort of getting there.
As a coda, I want to address the absence of the other two classic journalistic questions: “Where” and “Why.” I have left these out because the former is exceedingly simple and the latter exceedingly complicated. In other words, if “Where is the stadium?” is an important question in your particular game-going experience, you’re clearly in an unusual situation. If “Why am I going to the game?” is an important question in the pre-game process, well, you’ll just have to answer for yourself.